Nikon Coolpix S230 digital camera

With touchscreen becoming more user-friendly and more commonplace in pocket devices, it is no surprise to see it has pushed heavily into the compact camera market. The Nikon Coolpix S230 is one such device, sitting at the lower end of Nikon’s offerings and as such, should appeal to those looking for a good quality point and shoot.

The dimensions play to this role, stuffing a range of features we’ll look at presently, into a package that measures only 91 x 57 x 20mm, so slips easily into the pocket of your jeans or a bag. This is accompanied with the high quality of build that we’ve come to expect from Nikon: the body doesn’t creak or flex and the battery and AV out covers stay put. An SD card slots into the bottom (not supplied) to store your images as there is only 44MB of internal memory.

The back is dominated by a 3-inch touch-enabled display, but you still get two buttons on the back for scene selection and playback. The top of the S230 sees the shutter button encircled by the zoom ring, sitting next to the recessed power button, which will ably resist accidental power-ons whilst in your pocket. The screen has an anti-glare coating on it, which does (literally) take the gloss off things: you can still use it in bright conditions, but the display isn’t the sharpest around.

Besides these buttons, control is via the screen. Press the power button and the 35-105mm 3x zoom lens comes to life. Startup to first shot takes a little over 2 seconds (without the flash and assuming the focal point is obvious), so no slouch getting out of bed. You’ll find that the screen is flanked with control icons, letting you dive into (perhaps) the most useful features, as well as non-touchable status icons for battery, vibration reduction, resolution and so on.

You do get a display button in the bottom left that lets you toggle various options, so you can call up a two-thirds grid, or clear the screen of all the icons if you wish, but you can’t actually customise the icons displayed. So sitting at your fingertips you get flash controls, self timer and macro toggle down the left, whilst the right gives you the main menu and other occasional options that your selection might throw up, such as autofocus deselect. The icons do switch around as you change shooting modes, so things stay logical and relevant.

The menu touch button is perhaps an interesting option, because once the camera is set-up, you may not dive into the menu all that often. The scene selection by contrast is on the hard button next to the screen and at first stab is doesn’t seem to make sense, afterall, you are making other function selections on the screen. So the top left icon tells you what scene mode you are in – from the 17 or so on offer.

It is worth getting to know the scene modes because they do work and provide a range of settings that you’d have to fiddle around in the menus to set. You get the normal range of portrait, night scene and so on, as well as an auto scene selector. For everyday shooting you can just reside in the full auto default mode, but you might find you want a little more control when it comes to, for example, in low light, where scenes work nicely.

There is a stack of technology pressed into the S230 that comes to the fore as you start to explore. You might need to enable some of it in the menu: you do get vibration reduction, which indicates on the screen when you get a bit shaky, as well as distortion control, face priority AF, smile shot, auto redeye removal and so on. Whether this technology improves your photographs is something of a moot point: it doesn’t replace a steady hand and authoritative control over your giggling mates posing for a photo.

In-camera editing is something that the S230 isn’t afraid of either, allowing you to make minor edits directly on the screen using the included stylus. This runs from the conservative switch to sepia, to the sublime stamping stars all over your picture and scribbling on a beard and glasses. It’s all good fun, something that might keep the kids entertained, but doesn’t necessarily contribute to your overall photography. You can add voice notes too, saved as a WAV, to give yourself a little reminder about a particular shot.

Image quality is reasonable once you start to employ the scenes. Full auto mode will come unstuck fairly quickly and you’ll find that the flash will often step aside in preference of bumping up the ISO to capture an indoor scene, the result of which is a great deal of noise in situations that don’t necessarily warrant it.

But once you are aware of that it is easy to avoid, where the camera performs generally well. Colours are reasonably vibrant, although it does seem to struggle with high-contrast and bright conditions where it loses grip on colour and detail and purple fringing blights edges. Shots do have a tendency towards the soft side of things, which isn’t necessarily a killer-blow for the dinky compact.

Focusing is generally good and easy to control. White balance is best reigned under control with the presets or scenes to get the best results and we found the there was a tendency to over-expose. If you are looking for a camera to pull out large poster prints, then you may find that the S230 falls a little short on quality, but if you are strictly in the realms of traditional prints and sharing online then it should cover your needs nicely.

Video capture is also present, giving you what now feels like a slightly restrictive 640 x 480, falling behind the high-definition options you’ll find elsewhere. Quality is reasonable, as is the sound recording, but does seem a little basic.

Verdict

One point we shouldn’t overlook when talking about touchscreen devices is battery life. Nikon rate it at 160 shots, however you’ll probably not reach this number once you take into account all the extra viewing and playing around. We did get over 100 shots from a full charge however, using a typical mix of flash and playback. It performs better than some cameras in this space, whilst still being compact. If you need better battery life, then losing the touchscreen and opting for the Coolpix S220 will perhaps suit better.

But when all is said and done, the Nikon S230 is an easy to use compact camera that delivers relatively good results without getting too expensive. The screen is responsive and functions are not over-complicated, so it should appeal to happy snappers looking for a touchscreen compact for everyday use.